‘Solo Dance’ by Jayne Anne Philips

This story is less than a page, it’s all action and observation: daughter goes to see her father in hospital, he talks, he gets out of bed for a while, “she combs the back of his head with water and her fingers”. The finer details of their relationship, their past, his preoccupations, regrets, and pains are conveyed to us in a few spoken words, observations, “the skin on his legs was soft and pure like fine paper”. Phillips does not spell out the situation for the reader in any way, yet we understand. 

Collected in Black Tickets, Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence, 1979/Allen Lane, 1980. Available to read on Phillips’s website, here